This podcast we cover what journaling is, why people might do it as a form of self-care or self-reflection, and the different ways you can go about it.

What is journaling?

Journaling is any form of writing about your life, thoughts and feelings really. It could take the form of writing longhand in a notebook, creating computer docs or audio files where you speak your journal, doing an online blog about your life, or messaging on an app with another version of yourself. We’re generally talking here about the kind of journaling you do just for yourself rather than something designed to be shared, as you can then be more free to be open with yourself. We’re also distinguishing journaling from diarying – which is more of an account of your day-to-day life without necessarily including feelings or reflections.

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Why do it?

James Pennebaker’s extensive research finds that writing about our feelings generally has a positive impact on mental and physical health, confidence, motivation, and various other good things. 

However we’d also stress that it isn’t for everyone. Generally it’s best to find the forms of self-care that work for you rather than trying to force one that isn’t a good fit. You might be more drawn to talking with another person, meditation, bodily movement, or something else, for example. It’s important that these things don’t become another reason to feel badly about ourselves for ‘doing it wrong’ or not getting round to it.

How to do it

Even if journaling is a good fit for you, there are lots of different ways to journal, so it’s worth playing around and finding what works for you, remembering that this may also change over time. For example Justin described how he often writes letters he doesn’t send in order to work through his feelings and what he wants to communicate. Meg-John shared that they used to start by writing down everything that had happened and how they felt about it, and then move into reflective writing where they took perspective, tried to see things from others’ points of view, or considered any action they might take.

Different ways to do it

We covered lots of different ways of journaling on the podcast in detail. Here’s a list of things you might try:

  • Voice dialogue – writing as a conversation between different parts of yourself, or between you and an imagined person (e.g. a wise, compassionate person)
  • Writing specific memories and your reflections on those
  • Journaling on-and-off as you do another practice like sitting with feelings, or a ritual
  • Getting together with a friend to journal and then share your thoughts
  • Writing out of different emotional states (e.g. grief, anger, relief, and guilt after a break-up)
  • Making lists, e.g. of things you feel proud of, or grateful for, each day
  • Listing pros and cons around a decision, or what it might open up and close down for you
  • Mind-mapping
  • Doodling or creating rough comics
  • Writing letters or emails to people or situations which you won’t actually send

Further resources

The following people write good stuff on journaling and therapeutic writing:

James Pennebaker, e.g. Expressive Writing:

Words That Heal Natalie Goldberg, e.g. Writing Down the Bones

Anne Lamott, e.g. Bird by Bird

Julia Cameron, e.g. The Artist’s Way

Kathleen Adams, e.g. Journal to the Self

Kate Thompson, e.g. Therapeutic Journal Writing

Hal and Sidra Stone, e.g. Embracing Ourselves

© Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock, 2020